Episode 3.04 finishes off the mini arc within an arc. Devon gets a bigger part than normal, we meet Daniel Shaw and The Ring shapes up as the big bad for season three. One out of three ain’t good; but Operation Awesome remains a pretty solid episode. That’s the last time I’ll say that for a while. So let’s have another discussion about season three, and what might have been, after the jump.
Operation Awesome is a lot of fun. Along with Angel de la Muerte it makes for an excellent sub-arc before the we get to the meat of the season. For some of us, it will be the last chance to enjoy Chuck for a long time. A lot goes well here; Devon is a very funny supporting character, particularly his inability to lie. While I think that trait, like so many other things, is taken too far during the misery arc ahead, it is very entertaining here. His “decapitated the bear” story is just a brilliantly funny moment. I also got a big laugh from Casey’s comment that Devon is the member of the family who most looks like a spy, and Chuck quickly agreeing.
I also really like the way the Intersect malfunctions early in this episode. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not eager to see Chuck spazz out every week, but when it makes sense for Chuck be stressed out, I like that the Intersect would do something different and fun. I think all too often in other episodes we just see a sad sack Chuck who can’t do the job, and worse, whines about it. I really would have liked if Intersect malfunctions had been more creative and fun. Obviously, I’m not too thrilled with much about how such malfunctions were actually handled. I think having such a broken Chuck for so much of the season was a lousy entertainment decision. I would also add a big part of what goes wrong with the Intersect is that Sarah isn’t there to calm Chuck down often enough. I think that was a hugely appealing part of the first two seasons of the show (Sarah helping Chuck deal with spy life) and it wasn’t done in the same fun sort of way in this season at all. But this just all feeds in to why this is called the Misery Arc.
Meeting Shaw may be the most significant occurrence of this episode. I don’t particularly object to his introduction, except for how it will play out in the future. The thing is; Shaw initially comes across as arrogant, stupid and thoroughly unlikable. This is something a show like Chuck could have, should have, gotten great mileage out of. Unfortunately, interviews with TPTB indicate they were completely clueless to how the character came across. This is part of the disconnect that will sink this season. His arrogance alone could be great fun. He was so sure he was right and in charge of everything; is anyone actually impressed by such a character? It could have been so much fun to have him shot down and proven wrong every week. But instead they will go the opposite direction and try to make him look like the hero too often. But it doesn’t work. I don’t think many viewers liked seeing Daniel Shaw save the day. We had some false hope things would be well done in this episode; from Casey’s quick draw on him in Castle, to Sarah backing up Chuck in their later debriefing. Sadly, by the end of First Class he will seem to have won over Agent Walker, which manages to simultaneously be poor entertainment and make Sarah look stupid.
Which leads directly to my stupid Shaw comment. Right from the start, we see him requiring a trainee he’s never met before to shoot him as part of his grand scheme. He will also belittle Chuck’s plan for dealing with the Sydney, then send him alone on an airliner against two Ring agents the following week. When Shaw stupidly concludes Casey and Sarah are “what’s wrong” with Team B Casey identifies a more immediate issue, Shaw is a moron. Again, Chuck is exactly the sort of show that should have been so much fun with a total moron in charge for a while. Yet the writers try to convince us Shaw is a savant. Sadly, that was never shown well on screen.
Shaw’s unlikability will be a serious problem too. Especially since his part will be so large in the Misery Arc. One of the great strengths of Chuck had been the appeal of the three main characters, and their chemistry/interaction. The Charah part of it was huge. Easily my favorite part of the show those first two seasons was watching two such different, yet appealing, characters form a strong bond of friendship and trust. All while wondering what push it would take for them to be more. Then add in Casey, his friendship with both Chuck and Sarah was fun, and even better was the way he both antagonized and abetted their coupling. Shaw mucks everything up, in every way. He completely comes between Chuck and Sarah, and reduces Casey’s involvement too. This is a horrible entertainment choice. Shaw practically sucks the fun out of every scene he’s in. And his anti-charisma ruins Sarah for much of the season too, especially making her look stupid for falling under his spell until we’re left with zombie Sarah for several episodes late in the arc.
The Ring is not completely successful as a nemesis either. To be fair, Chuck is never really about the bad guys and their nefarious schemes. The bad guys and their plots exist mainly to give our heroes something to do. But why did Fulcrum seem so much more interesting and intimidating than The Ring? I think part of it was better and more compelling villains, from Fulcrum Tommy, to Colt, Vincent (who may have been playing for The Ring too) and Roark. Even though Fulcrum’s demise was a bit underwhelming, it was a good heavy for over a year. The Ring never had such a personality. In the end, Shaw would be the most memorable Ring agent; and The Ring manages an even more underwhelming end than Fulcrum! I’m tempted to blame things like never really knowing their objectives as a problem, but really, we never knew a whole lot about Fulcrum either. Both organizations exist primarily as foils for the heroes; but The Ring always felt like it was little more than a foil while Fulcrum felt like it had more life of its own. And I know, that is completely my own subjective opinion.
This all leads to the “what would Dave have liked to see” part of this post. As indicated above, I really liked this episode by itself. So what I would have liked to see has more to do with the arc and tone of the show than anything related to Operation Awesome itself. But I would have liked to see Shaw recognized as a complete moron by Casey and Sarah, and had it stick. Perhaps Chuck being dazzled by the hot shot agent who pushed him harder than Sarah and Casey do could have worked for a couple episodes. But if we assume Shaw’s goal is to turn Chuck into a solo agent, and a deadly weapon; Casey, and especially Sarah, knowing Chuck better; and respecting Chuck for what he can actually be, should quickly prove to be the better team-mates. This is one of those things that could have provide some good drama and tension for our young couple; as they work through, and sometimes argue over, Chuck’s training, role on the team, and his relationship with Shaw. I imagine this could have been both more fun, and a more grown up show than the teen soap we got (Gee, real differences of opinion that need to be resolved but don’t actually threaten the relationship. What a concept!)
Of course the other possibility I see is just a more likable Shaw. If his arrogance had been dialed back just a bit, he might have been believable as a mentor and friend to Chuck. We still could have had some differences over what type of agent Chuck was going to be, especially where killing is concerned. But I think if Shaw had played a major role in Chuck’s training, without being a jerk about it, he could have been a far more sympathetic character when the time came for him to turn bad. Bonus points if the secret relationship had been in use and Shaw tried to convince Chuck to just let him kill Sarah. I think this direction could have been very effective, and actually made us care when he turned traitor; instead of just cheering when Chuck filled him full of lead.
For the record, I have no opinion about the actor in this. I liked Routh in Superman Returns. Of course now, I don’t think I can ever watch it again. But I think he would have been okay with better direction in a different sort of role. As it is; in different interviews Routh did claim both that Chuck fans weren’t going to like him much, and that he was not being given much direction on how he should play the character or what was coming next. So I’m willing to call it possible that most of what was wrong with Shaw was not his fault. I do know, that as written there is no actor I would have liked in that part. I’ll say that again, there is no actor who could have made me like Shaw or his story. It was fatally flawed at conception; that’s in the writer’s room. Whether Routh could have been the best actor for a much modified Shaw that I imagine making for a better story, I just don’t know. I know many fans, and at least one professional critic, put much of the blame for season three’s failure on Routh; but I’m just not convinced either way.
I want to briefly mention the Charah situation here too. As I’ve said many times, the only way I would have completely liked season three is if they had chosen a lighter tone, especially where Chuck and Sarah are concerned, from the very start of the season. But if we take Operation Awesome as a given, I could see it as a nice building block for a completely restored relationship in the very near future. With the last couple scenes, the debriefing and the dinner, leading to a good conversation for Chuck and Sarah. I think we’ve seen some trust and friendship restored these last couple weeks, and I would have loved to see a version of the “do you love me” discussion come within an episode or two of this ending. That might even allow for some slower growing together than what canon provided (that is, just flipping the switch in Other Guy).
This has been a longer post than I expected! Quite surprising considering I’ve had little to say about the episode itself. Just as many of us find little objectionable about Operation Awesome itself, the fan fiction community has also paid it little attention. I do believe Devon’s bear story has wound its way into a couple stories, but the only attempt I can think of to address this story has been from KateMcK again. She really dove into making things right for Chuck and Sarah before the show got there. In Chapter Three of “Chuck vs the Fight” she will had a couple of well conceived Sarah scenes. These are maybe less explicitly Charah than some of her others, but they clearly move Chuck and Sarah into a better place.
I do apologize if much of this post was too negative. It’s a little ironic considering this was such a good episode. But the introduction of Daniel Shaw is a tough one. The weeks ahead will get a little ugly I’m sure. But I am still grateful for the writers and everyone who created this show and gave us 4+ seasons of dynamite entertainment. But I also believe they badly lost their way at about the midpoint, and that’s where we are now.